[Dixielandjazz] New York City Jazz in June

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 3 07:01:37 PDT 2011

Not for strict Dixielanders, however if one wants to see what's  
happening in jazz "today" there is no better place than NYC in June.

Steve Barbone

Jazz in June: Sorting Through the Abundance


AS usual, jazz pervades June in New York City. Besides better-than- 
normal bookings in the clubs, we’re looking at the first Blue Note  
Jazz Festival (monthlong), the second Undead Jazzfest (June 23 to 26)  
and the 16th Vision Festival (Sunday through June 11).

It’s a different landscape from the usual one: there’s no George Wein- 
produced festival in town, since the retreat of his major sponsors.  
This means few produced, big-theater shows around a person or a theme,  
the kind of thing that almost defined the summer jazz calendar in the  
city. It also means the absence of some of the music’s recurring  
festival stars, your Wayne Shorters or Keith Jarretts or Brad Mehldaus  
— they’ve already done their New York business for the year. Someone  
else will claim our attention this June.

Ben Ratliff and Nate Chinen, jazz writers for The New York Times,  
sorted it out on Mr. Ratliff’s weekly Popcast. Below is an edited  
version of their conversation.

BEN RATLIFF Nate, why does June always look this way?

NATE CHINEN In 1972 George Wein decided to move his Newport festival  
to New York, and decided on June because Carnegie Hall and Avery  
Fisher Hall, the two places he wanted to use, were shuttered for the  
season, so he was able to get the spaces he wanted at that time. His  
original idea was, “We can’t do a big festival in a field, like we do  
at Newport, so let’s turn Midtown New York into that idea.”

RATLIFF So the JVC Jazz Festival — later, the CareFusion Jazz Festival  
— was the behemoth. Which is not to say that it had no point of view.

CHINEN He always had his biggies, his heavyweights. There was a  
period, in the ’70s, when that was Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins;  
a little later, in the ’80s, it was Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie,  
at a time when people said, “That’s no longer cutting-edge.” But Sarah  
Vaughan, year after year, would sell out Carnegie Hall.

RATLIFF Now, in the absence of JVC, we’ve got three smaller festivals,  
almost entirely happening in the clubs — or, in the case of Vision  
Festival, at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side.

CHINEN It’s a decentralization that has to do with that absence. It  
costs a lot of money to reserve those big halls and pay the union  
costs. And between these three festivals, you’ve got three pretty  
different philosophies of booking a festival. Vision has the clearest  
identity of the three. It has to do with post-1960 avant-garde and  
free jazz. In many cases the same figures crop up in different  
combinations. William Parker, the bassist — if you look at this year’s  
schedule, I think he’s playing in eight or nine different groups  
during the course of the week.

RATLIFF He’s a founder of the festival, but in general the festival  
cultivates its heroes.

CHINEN There’s a ton of veneration in it. In recent years they’ve had  
a lifetime achievement honoree — this year it’s the German saxophonist  
Peter Brötzmann. And then there are tributes to Vision Festival  
regulars who have passed on in the last year, Marion Brown and Billy  

RATLIFF Undead is sort of the no-great-man festival. It’s more about  
what’s happening now; it’s more musicians from their 20s to, let’s  
say, their early 50s. It’s harder to tell categorically what’s going on.

CHINEN And it has a lot of people overlapping with the Vision  
Festival. Paradoxical Frog, a group that put out one of my favorite  
jazz records last year, is playing in both festivals: on the Vision  
Festival, augmented by the violist and violinist Mat Maneri, and  
without him at Undead. David S. Ware, whom you’d put in the pantheon  
of Vision Festival heroes, is playing an Undead solo performance at  
Homage skate park in Brooklyn. That’s another thing about this year’s  
Undead that I really like: It moves away from the West Village. It  
reflects how much of this music is now based in Brooklyn, not only by  
virtue of where the musicians live, but also where the music is being  

RATLIFF The Blue Note festival is business logic as much as anything  
else. The Blue Note jazz club, the Highline Ballroom and the B. B.  
King Blues Club and Grill are operated by the same people. So the Blue  
Note jazz festival takes place in those venues, with a couple of shows  
that seem added on. It fills some gaps left by the disappeared George  
Wein festivals: sentimental favorites, fusion and tributes. So there’s  
Dave Brubeck; there’s Hiromi, the aging wunderkind; there’s Albita’s  
tribute to Celia Cruz; there’s Jon Hendricks’s 90th-birthday  

CHINEN And the 85th-birthday celebration for Jimmy Scott. It feels  
almost cynically like rushing into the void left by JVC-slash- 

RATLIFF And for what purpose, you know?

CHINEN It has a commercial instinct that I only halfway understand.  
There’s a night during the festival, the 18th, when the Blue Note Jazz  
Festival concerts are Chaka Khan at B. B. King’s, Madeleine Peyroux at  
the Highline, Manhattan Transfer at the Blue Note and Vinx at the Blue  

RATLIFF It’s like, what year is it? So you’ve got three festivals with  
varying degrees of aesthetic control. And there are surprises —  
concerts within one festival that seem entirely as if they should be  
in another. Which is a good sign; it means the whole scene is less  
frozen. The drummer Greg Saunier, from Deerhoof, is collaborating with  
the jazz saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo at the Blue Note, June 10, 12:30  
in the morning, as part of the Blue Note festival. That sounds like  
Undead. And then Tomasz Stanko at the Vision Festival: that seems more  
Undead or even Blue Note. He’s a big name; he’s got the last track on  
the new Smithsonian jazz anthology.

CHINEN That whole night at Vision, June 7, is presented in conjunction  
with the Festival of New Trumpet Music — another thing that happens in  
June, with a much quieter impact but a lot of serious musicians. So in  
addition to Tomasz Stanko, Amir ElSaffar is playing that night, and  
Ted Daniel and Jonathan Finlayson.

RATLIFF What should a jazz festival in New York look like? Is there a  
better model than what we see here?

CHINEN What I’m missing from all this is something that the JVC  
festival, at its best, could do: a really big concert with an idea.  
Not just a birthday tribute, not just a stop on someone’s tour, but a  
concert that’s produced and makes a point about something.

RATLIFF But that’s a one-night-only thing, and contrary to the natural  
reality of jazz.

CHINEN Oh, it’s totally artificial. But when I look at the abundance  
here, it’s what I miss.

RATLIFF How do you feel about the Undead model of the concertgoer  
shuttling back and forth along a three-block radius in the West  
Village or Williamsburg, seeing a ton of music in one night?

CHINEN I love the idea of an overspill, the messiness of it. It  
fosters discovery, and it creates the festive atmosphere. In the past,  
during the last Winter Jazzfest — which is related to the Undead Fest,  
with the same organizers — you wrote about the danger of  
overpopularity, when the scales tip, and a pleasantly overcrowded  
experience becomes an unpleasant one. I hope that what they’re doing  
here, branching out to Brooklyn, will address that.

RATLIFF I expect to see you on the rialto about 76 times over the  
month. Be careful out there.

Information about the festivals: visionfestival.org, undeadjazz.com,  

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